Tuesday 9 June 2020

Potty-mouthed Keegan ignores double standards while re-opening potential 'cold case': Euro 96 re-told

The now even more popular act of reliving football matches has the ability to reassure or confuse the 're-liver' of many things: 'yes, that team was lucky to win'; 'geez, I didn't realise just how many teasing back passes Liverpool played in the eighties'; 'why did I think this was one of the best matches I've ever seen when actually it is one of the worst?' But something we now seem to know for sure is that ITV's football commentators were planting rude words live on air during Euro 96.

Watching again the first ever meeting of England v Germany at Wembley - a fitting host for a semi final - it appears that Brian Moore's cough-and-you missed it uttering of "twat" during the quarter final against Spain was no accident. Pre-ordained, off-the-cuff, panic-stricken whatever, the gentlemanly Mooro almost certainly lit the flame for this high-stakes thrill ride, presumably in the name of fun, whilst handing over the baton for the next man in the next game. ..         

Along with the return of Paul Ince to the line up against Germany, Kevin Keegan was back to take the strain off Big Ron, resting up after 120 minutes of incident-free observation watching the Spanish, but it was the then Newcastle boss himself, who not only followed up on Mooro's offering but knocked it out of the park with the plural use of another term for a "lady's part" (Alan Partridge, 1997.)   

Using available resources wisely, Keegan pronounced the surname of the German goalscorer Steffen Kuntz the way that most people being heard by 20 million others would surely have chosen to avoid. His intention to declare this bar-raiser seems clear, particularly as there is a clear get-out option. Indeed, anyone who wasn't under the ago of 20 or an ape in a refreshment zoo, would have said "Koontz" , confident that this was probably the correct way to say it anyway.

But it seems that Keegan wasn't playing by the normal rules -  no, he was abiding by ITV studio bantz, years before that word was even invented. He even repeated the word in normal time, again when it could so easily have been avoided. This time Kuntz wasn't anywhere near the ball, nor had done anything for ages, and it was the mere introduction of substitute Thomas Strunz that inspired King Kev to go the extra mile.

"That's all we need, Strunz and Kuntz on the field" he muttered 'clumsily', as if claiming that the similarity of their surnames was the trickiest part of the new player's arrival. It was estimated that 99% of the world's population understood Strunz to be pronounced "Stroonz", but Keegan knew that if he didn't apply this consistency then the game would be up. 

Limited research at this point allows us to only speculate whether a double entry - same rude word or not - awards extra points, or free drinks at the bar, though in making the most of a small opportunity, Keegan shows typical character of the man, a European Footballer of the Year built on squeezing the last drop out of himself. But there is no denying he is canny, too, and if the success of the planted rude word was a case of hiding in plain sight, then anyone who has read his recent autobiography would, in reflection, nod sagely. In his book, KK details how he used the art of disguise to sneak into St James' Park shortly after his ill-fated spell with Mike Ashley as chairman, using "a pair of glasses", "hat" and "upturned collar" (actually in the book he says "I turned the collar up on my overcoat", but I'm trying to be fluent here) to deceive unnamed interceptors. 

Keegan also cites another time in Disney World, when he attached a "grey ponytail" to his baseball cap, and again sported a pair of glasses (he doesn't say if these were the same glasses as worn on the St James' Park mission) in the hope that his family would be left untroubled (only for some ignoramus to request an autograph anyway.)   

For the next instalment of ITV's foul-mouthed enterprise, viewers must be committed to hang on to every word of Big Ron's musings on the Germany-Czech Rep Final, an uneasy yet compelling proposition, although as discussed in previous pages, it is a full nine years before things get messy, so maybe one shouldn't be too wary/disappointed.

Perhaps in a related note, one of the cleaner messages from the commentary team in this game, and nicely put, came from Mooro, who referenced the "xenophobia" in parts of the English media but added that regular match-goers in the tournament told him "It doesn't feel like that here". When Keegan suggested that "one man writing for five million people can be the most damaging of all" I wondered whether he was speaking in general terms or in response to a particular tabloid headline that had popped up that morning, which had blared out "Achtung!Surrender!" from the shelves (and petrol station stands.) 

The editor responsible has recently argued that it was "twenty four years ago" (when it was still a whopping 51 years since World War II). I won't go into naming and shaming, just that he is now an ITV presenter himself, and very active on Twitter.  I used to hate him - which is what he wants (not me per se, of course) - but now think better of him following his (many) comments on people who have performed poorly during the current pandemic. 

Anyway, I won't give you his life story.   

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Euro 96 Rewind: 22nd June 1996 Spain v England, Wembley Quarter-Final: "Twat", the first step to one step beyond

With Paul Ince suspended, Big Ron was released for England's next Wembley appointment, back in alongside Mooro for the first ever international tournament match where a Golden Goal might decide it.

"I have to confess I don't like it", Big Ron mused over the new 'sudden death' element of tournament football, which now bowed to teenage kickabouts-over-the-park by taking it's "Next goal wins" feature.  Big Ron's confessions, though, were his own trademark, along with "spotter's badge" and others I might mention in a bit, and it was comforting to hear him getting in this staple of his ('on air') co-commentary diet. Big Ron made many confessions during his gantry life, so it might seem odd that there was no such prefix before his biggest sin, although "in fairness" he had thought the shutters were down that fateful April night of 2005 in Monte Carlo.

Yet on this June afternoon in North London, with trophy-bound Eng-er-land - after their swatting of the Dutch - taking on the Spanish in the last 16, it was the normally squeaky clean Mooro who appeared to blot the proverbial. During the latter stages of the second half after Big Ron had commented that he'd barely seen Ince's replacement, David Platt, in the oppositions's penalty box, Mooro clearly says "twat" when Paul Gascoigne receives possession of the ball. This may have been a gut-reaction stab at Platty, who to be fair to the lad had been asked to suppress his attacking instincts to fulfil his containment role, or was perhaps an accidental unveiling of his distaste for Gascoigne, though a third option presenting itself is an 'in-joke' contest the commentary team had set themselves, which involved saying an offensive word at some point during the match (a similar game to the one England's players devised at the World Cup in France two years later when naming pop songs during interviews).

If the microphone men were indeed up to jolly japes, then fair play to Mooro - back in 96 I'd watched the match at home with my mum and sister, and only 24 years later has one of us noticed - but potentially this is a bittersweet story. No doubt Big Ron was giggling away to himself while Mooro went for broke, but let's say this popular game carried on into the next decade, century no less and, with practically every naughty utterance already riskily planted by a succession of paid observers, who is not to say that a Champions League semi final involving, say, Marcel Desailly, came at a time when imagination was exhausted and, with so few options left, a ramping up of pressure and impulse led to a co-commentator knocking one out of the sky?       

"Phew, in reflection Clive, I'm bloody glad I didn't go through with that rick! I just thought I'd try it off-air, assess the risk, if you like, but there's no chance I'll go through with it for the Final...what's that, you say?"

Here in the safe confines of the national stadium, nine full years before that night, Big Ron's biggest gaffe was to wonder in the first half whether "David Pleat might step into the centre of midfield". As we all know, Pleat has never stepped into midfield, only galloped there like a loose racehorse in a suit, hailing the avoidance of relegation at Maine Road.

Whilst not everything I've said may be 100% true (though can you rule any of it out?), I rewatched this quarter final assured by my long-held belief that Spain were desperately unlucky to lose. Julio Salinas' shot past David Seaman was still onside, and Spain (with so much promise still to unfulfill) carved England open time and again only to shoot themselves in the foot rather than at goal. Big Ron and Mooro were also united in believing Gascoigne, not learning from Italia 90, had chopped down Alfonso for a clear penalty that wasn't given; indeed Alfonso was booked - ticked off by both a relieved Gascoigne and the ref. 

The penalty is a difficult one, as Gascoigne put his foot in the way of Alfonso who dived over it. Wayne Rooney and Jamie Vardy have won penalties out of Arsenal this way and - surprisingly I know - I yelled injustice both times, but while there is an element of doubt there, it is indisputable that Spain's centre half Fernandez Abelardo should actually have been sent off in the first ten minutes - before the incorrect offside call against Spain and their raft of opportunities. Having clattered Shearer from behind in the mould of (Steve) Bould within seconds of the kick off, Abelardo then manhandled Steve McManaman who'd just put the ball beyond him down the right flank. If Aberlardo had been sent off, the Salinas injustice may not have been so easy to create, nor the attacking dominance displayed by the visitors.

Maybe England would still have played so poorly after the dismissal, but what should have been clear to me watching this first time around was that England were never going to win this tournament on their own soil. The Holland game was, as Big Ron told Frank Skinner on his chat show those nine years later, "an aberration". Holland, it turned out, were nice to play against, and it wasn't so easy against a greater intensity. Or maybe England were just a bit tired, although people say highly paid professional footballers aren't allowed to be, so of course it couldn't have been that. 

I did hesitate over watching this match, and indeed any other Euro 96 match 'relived', after I'd read the tagline on the ITV Hub. "Watch all the games from the greatest ever Euros". Really? What I can only assume is the person who came up with that hasn't watched any of the games on the service he's promoting, or indeed any of Euro 84, 88, 2000 or 2012. I can't comment on anything before 84, but thinking of it, 2008 and 2016 were probably better than 96 too. The next 'available episode' after Spain v England is France v Netherlands, and I remember itching with anxiety over the dullness of that one back at the time. This match up was merely a succession of free kicks outside each box that nobody could take properly; what should have been the Final of the World Cup two years later was somehow so bad in Manchester.

Perhaps it is the 'greatest ever Euros' because it was over 'ere, with Frankie Skinner and little Dave Baddiel and the boy Broudie. 

Sugar Coated Lies.                          

‘One more’ lonely night: Spain 2 England 1. Euro ‘24 Final

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